Will Ye No Return?

I flew to New York City on August 29.  Naturally there was lots to do before that.  One of the tasks was to fill my two bird feeders – one with sunflower seed and the other with nyjer seed (for the finches).

I flew home on Monday, September 13, arriving at my door as darkness approached.  The next morning I looked out my living room window … and saw that both feeders were full!  Huh?  That didn’t compute.  Then I remembered that I’d used the dregs of the old bag of sunflower seed, rather than beginning the new one.  That must be it: seeds that were after their best before date.

In the spirit of thoroughness, I also guessed that it was time to clean the feeders.  Soaking them in bleach water for a day would cover another base.  And then I’d have birdies again!  The soaking took place on the Tuesday.  Wednesday was for rinsing off the toxic stuff and letting the feeders dry.  Thursday was reassembling the feeders, filling them with fresh seed, and returning them to their positions of previous glory.  It might take a day for my winged friends to find the renewed feeders but Saturday would be a fiesta of flapping wings and full stomachs.

Except it wasn’t.  Not a bird to be seen.

Sunday the same.

Which brings us to today.  I scanned the sky and found no small birdies, just a few turkey vultures in their graceful swoops of flight.  (Sigh)  I thought of the end of things.  Could this be one of those?  Did the birdies get together and decide that Belmont, Ontario would go on their no-fly list?  I sure hope not.  I love looking out the window at the feeder perches well occupied.

It makes no sense that it would be over.  But then much of life doesn’t make sense.  Please come back.  I miss you.

Late this afternoon, I heard a chirp, and then more.  It was a baby sparrow, atop one of the feeder poles.  And leaning in for food down below was mom.  Hello!  Welcome home.  Mom leapt up to the pole and frantically fed the young one, who was vigorously flapping his or her wings.  Surely this was a sign of things to come.  Mom would be a scout, drawing her friends back to gourmet gatherings.

We’ll see.  It’s quiet out there.

Lonely in the World

The singer is Nanci Griffith.  The song is “When I Dream”.  The sadness permeates all.  There is lonely with money and lonely without money.  This is with.  It looks good – being able to head to Paris on a whim, eat at the best restaurants, host elegant parties, be liked a thousand times on Facebook.  But it’s not good.  It’s empty … of life.

Nanci is not just dreaming of a soulmate, a romantic partner.  She longs for true human contact – with people young and old, male and female.  She longs for kindred spirits.  There is a connection possible between human beings that is profound.  There is no gap between.  It isn’t two folks trying to understand and empathize.  It’s two folks inside the same immense reality that easily escapes our best words.  Together in that, and each person still deeply him or herself.   More of me.  More of us.

Too often we narrow our view to see intimacy solely as the realm of sexual partners.  There is a world of contact beyond the lovers.  Such interlacing is available for anyone willing to come close to the other.  It is our birthright.

The words of Crystal Gayle lie below the singer.  They point to despair tinged with a touch of hope.  There is another destination.

I could have a mansion that is higher than the trees
I could have all the gifts I want and never ask please
I could fly to Paris, oh, it’s at my beck and call
Why do I go through life with nothing at all?

But when I dream, I dream of you
Maybe someday you will come true

I can be the singer or the clown in every room
I can even call someone to take me to the moon
I can put my makeup on and drive the men insane
I can go to bed alone and never know his name

But when I dream, I dream of you
Maybe someday you will come true

Where Is Everybody?

If you read yesterday’s post, you know that my task today was to search through the 156 episodes of the original Twilight Zone TV series to find some guidance in this time of coronavirus.

I started at the very beginning.  Episode One of Season One was telecast on October 2, 1959.  The fold-out card that came with the DVDs described “Where Is Everybody?” this way:

Earl Holliman stars as a man on the edge of hysteria in an oddly deserted town.  Despite the emptiness, he has the strangest feeling that he’s being watched.

Was this promising for my mission?  I didn’t know.  Perhaps Wikipedia could help.  A minute later, the plot of Episode One lay before me.  And it was indeed promising.

***

On my walks in and near Belmont, there haven’t been many people to say “Hi” to.  Even the cars seem to be hunkered down in their driveways and garages.  But at least the birds are still in full song.  Overall, it’s eerie.  Out in the country, I scan the horizon for walking human beings, hoping that they won’t turn off before reaching me.

***

On my TV, a young man is alone on a country road, approaching a town.  Our host, Rod Serling, sets the stage:

The place is here.  The time is now.  And the journey into the shadows that we’re about to watch could be our journey.

It certainly is.

Main Street is empty.  “Anybody here?  Hey!  Hey!”

There’s a woman sitting in a car across the street.  “I don’t seem to remember who I am,” he calls out.  But she’s a mannequin.

The phone is ringing in a telephone booth.  He sprints, longing for a voice to be with.  There is one at the other end of the line … a recording.

A church bell tones through the silence, echoing.

There’s a diner kitty corner, and the man finds ice cream, but no people.  He watches himself in a mirror as the delicious flavour goes down.  No joy.

“I’d like to find somebody to talk to!”

The man bursts into a movie theatre … row upon row of empty seats.  A film is showing but the projection room is empty.

It turns out that this was a military experiment to assess the ability of prospective astronauts to cope with the emptiness of space.  The assessors are blunt:  “He cracked … It’s a kind of nightmare that your mind manufactured for you.”

As the credits rolled, so did Rod’s words:

The barrier of loneliness: the palpable, desperate need of the human animal to be with his fellow man.  Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation.  It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting … in The Twilight Zone.

***

My friends, we have resources beyond the physical …

Telephoning
Texting
E-mailing
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Skype
Zoom

Let’s use them

Day Thirty-Five: So Alone … So Together

There was a moment in Senegal that threatened to separate me from humanity. I fought it. Then I let go into it. But it had such power to suck me down.

A group of us were sitting around. Lydia and I were the only English speakers. She’s also fluent in Flemish and French. Nano is such a cool young Senegalese woman. She definitely could be on the stage at Yuk Yuks in Paris. She dances. She throws her body around, with her arms touching the sky.

And Nano is a storyteller. She launched her into her tale with aplomb, moving every whichway, screaming her words to the heights and then dropping them to a whisper. Eyes on all sides were locked on her. And then … faces exploded in laughter as Nano bent way over.

I sat calmly, with a tiny smile. But the roller coaster ride was far from over. Six or seven more times, the onlookers rocked and rolled in ecstasy, tears appearing on cheeks.

And my heart kept falling. An intense shared experience was not shared with me. There’s no fault here, just a celebration of a woman’s hilarious adventures … in French.

I was all over the map – fine with the exclusion, hating it, rationalizing the whole thing. There was a nakedness I often felt, and a despair.

***

Yesterday afternoon, a group of us in the Evolutionary Collective explored an idea at lunch. What if we intensified our access to this inclusive consciousness by spending more time together each week online? What if we consciously moved towards a commitment to living this communion 24/7? What’s possible?

One idea emerging was to create a “text thread” among the six of us. A matrix of support for each other in real time. What if I could have pulled out my cell phone in the midst of that Nano story and shared with my “tribe” what I was experiencing? Oh my. How astonishing. Perhaps someone else in the group would read my message right then, and respond. It’s not about zooming a solution over the Internet, or fixing people. It’s about being there, in deep contact with the one experiencing something profoundly, whether it’s “positive” or “negative”.

Now wouldn’t that be a different kettle of fish?

No One Came … Everyone Came

Fifty summers ago, I was working at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Alberta. My roommate was Adrian, a fellow with a British accent. I think for both of us it was our first time living away from home.

Adrian wanted to host a party in our room. He sent out invites to the employees and we stocked up on pop and snacks. Around 8:00 one evening, we were ready. We sat on our beds and waited for our friends to show. We waited until 8:30 and then 9:00. No one came.

Adrian’s pain filled the room. It certainly flooded over me. Such a deep sigh of sadness. Both of our heads dropped down. There wasn’t much to say.

That memory of the dorm room at the PW is still vivid today. Human beings should not do such things to each other.

***

Earlier this week, I heard about a boy named Kade in Corner Brook, Newfoundland who had sent out invitations to his 11th birthday party. Dad agonized on Twitter with the news that none of those friends showed up. “I’m asking my Twitter friends to show him some love today.” There was a photo attached of Kade in his Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, proudly displaying his birthday cake adorned with hockey players in the icing.

And what happened, you ask. Lots.

50,000 happy birthday messages, including some from Leafs players

A phone call from the Leafs’ captain John Tavares, wishing Kade well and letting him know that a big surprise was coming his way

An Air Canada flight from Newfoundland to Toronto

A lovely hotel suite

Meeting the players at their morning skate today

Cool seats for the Leafs’ game with the Philadelphia Flyers tonight

(Ahh)

There is love in the world
Somewhere Adrian is smiling

Birds Near Me

Out back I have two feeders – one for sunflower seeds and the other for nyjer seed. I love seeing the sparrows, finches and mourning doves when they come to call.

But three days ago, they stopped calling. The levels of seed haven’t diminished. There’s no “chirp, chirp, chirp” greeting me as I open my eyes. (Sigh)

Love them and let them go. So true … for human beings, lovely places and birds. Not knowing whether I’ll ever again see a dear soul from my long meditation retreat feels bitter … and somehow sweet. The same with Playa del Carmen, Mexico, where Jody and I spent two sublime vacations.

I know the birds will come back but I’m sitting here imagining my world without them. I am the lesser when marvelous beings depart. I know they’re out there somewhere and I’m happy when I think they’re flying high. On my back patio, there’s a space where birds belong. I can feel their presence within their absence.

Now I look out over the cornfield. No one flying. A dog barking way to the north. A few cars on Belmont Road. I lean towards the birds I don’t see, wanting them to return, and yet peaceful within what is.

And now a flock of twenty black ones enter my field of vision from the left. They swoop over the field and fall into a big old tree at the end. I watch them now, chattering together on a few dead branches.

“Come back!”

But the birdies will do as they will. I’m not in control. The river of life carries me along.

Day Three: Self-Esteem

It started at breakfast this morning. Four of us sat outside at a café. My personal choice was pesto pasta. The others talked about their cycling lives … and I was overwhelmed by fear. “What am I doing here? Bruce, you’re so out of your league.” Depression came to visit but I tried to put on a neutral face. I didn’t want my fellow cyclists to have to deal with my angst.

In general, my self-esteem is high, but this was not general. This was piercingly specific. My Buddhist training has taught me to be curious about my thoughts and there was no shortage of material to work with today:

You’ll never finish this tour

These folks are so fast and confident

You’ll be so slow and so alone all the way across Canada

Your balance is abysmal
You can’t even get the water bottle out of its cage

I’ve learned in life to abide by the truth. Today’s truth was dominated by fear and at some points I chose to express that to my new friends. “Don’t do that, Bruce. Don’t bother them.” I chose to ignore that advice, risking that they’d reject me for being so wimpy. Somehow, it seemed that this personal nakedness was an act of courage.

Tonight eight of us went out to dinner. The flood of “not okay” swept over me again as several folks recounted past bike tours or bike club adventures.

Now was the moment: either wallow in despair or pull myself up into sweeter air. And rise I did, thrusting myself into a few conversations when all I wanted to do was curl into a ball and sink beneath the tablecloth.

Time and again the battle raged, most likely unnoticed by my companions. There was no clear winner.

But still … I’m left with a freshness of spirit. The seven human beings I’ve met so far will be worthy recipients of my gifts and I’m a worthy recipient of theirs. Together we will create something new, despite my terrors and the woes they hold inside.

We are bigger than this

Hello Traveller

I’m sitting in my comfy meditation chair after a long period of quiet.  Right in front of me is my big bed, with its bedspread of splashy colours.  Beyond is a large window looking out on the backyard, with its recently planted deciduous tree – about 12 feet tall.  Then the land slopes down to a farmer’s field.  Maybe 400 metres away is a creek with a series of trees standing guard, their branches bare.  After that is a field which climbs toward the horizon, with Harrietsville Drive flowing left to right way back there near the end of the world.

And I reflect.

Before I started meditating, I took off my clothes and put on my red housecoat.  Those clothes are piled on the bed, helter skelter.  I look at the pile and realize that they’re my clothes, a symbol of Bruce now divorced from the body.  But I see me there.  I think of all the garments I’ve worn in my life, and I smile.  It’s nice to have remembrances of me.  They help me love myself in the moment.  Sometimes I need reminders that I’m a good person.

Outside of the window but unseen from my current angle are two bird feeders.  A flash of wing often crosses my field of vision and some birdies take turns clinging to the branches of the tree.  Then again, the tree is often birdless … such as right now.  I want my friends to show up, so I can enjoy them.  I sense that a few of them are at the feeders, just beyond my sight, but somehow that’s not good enough.  I want them to be with me.

Way out there on Harrietsville Drive, a car is roaming left to right.  “Hello, traveller.  I hope you’re happy.  Thanks for coming by.”  Too soon, the car disappears behind my bedroom wall.  I long for another to take its place.  A right-to-lefter would be just as fine.

Right now, there’s no vehicle on the horizon.  I feel an odd pain about that.  But I look at the trees by the creek and see that their branches are waving at me.  “Hello, dear trees.”  Unlike the birds and the cars, they’re not going anywhere.  Come the spring, however, their leaves will disguise the waving.

So at times there is no waving, no birdies and no humans in their cozy cars.  And that’s okay.  Part of the rhythm of things.  And I know they’ll be back.

Alone

Jody’s been dead for three years now, and I miss her so.  I would love to have a dear woman as my life partner but that hasn’t happened.  I’ve gone on dates but all four of those women said no to a relationship.  That makes me sad.

Sometimes I’ve fallen in love with a younger woman, someone in her 20’s or 30’s. I’ve fantasized about making love, and about communion.  But what’s life-serving is for that young woman to find a love far closer to her age than me, so they can grow old together.

Beneath the woe of loneliness is a peace, a slow current of life that keeps seeping into me.  Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve found myself in an altered state of consciousness while driving, walking down the street or just sitting in my man chair.  It feels like the depth I sometimes reached in meditation at last fall’s retreat.  How strange and marvelous.  And I want to sit with my lover and talk about it.  Oh well.

It may be that I will never again be in a committed relationship.  I may never again make love.  It’s amazing to open myself to this possibility … and to get that it’s okay.  I feel a happiness that’s deeper than all these thoughts.  And I get it: All that matters is the energy I put out in life.  It doesn’t matter what comes back.

And yet I still long for relationship.  How can the peace and longing happen at the same time?  I don’t know.  I see myself spooning with the beloved in bed, cuddling on the couch as we watch a popcorn-infused movie.  And I smile.  Shouldn’t I be sad that this isn’t happening in my current life?  Well, I guess, and sometimes I am.  But like I said, something way bigger is happening to me.  I feel it right now – a quiet energy roaming through my face, a falling of my flesh, a softening of my eyes.

I want to be of sevice, and I often am.  Actually, I’m often in communion with the person I’m talking to.  Maybe I don’t need the cuddling, just the deep sharing of the eyes.  Whether a loved one comes my way or not, there are always the eyes of the next human being to come calling.

Sadness
Peace
Love
Loneliness
Communion

The whole lifetime enchilada

Feeding Me

One of my favourite memories of Jody’s and my home in Union, Ontario is our bird feeders.  What joy to sit on the deck and watch the hummers hum and the finches frolic.  Since moving to Belmont, I’ve missed that.  But I brought two feeders with me – a big cylinder holding sunflower seeds and other yummies (sparrow, finches, red-winged blackbirds, mourning doves and associated friends) and a small cylinder holding nyjer seed (red finches and goldfinches).  Two weeks ago, I set up a black shepherd’s hook stand outside my living room window and hung the feeders.

Within a day or two, I had multiple winged visitors.  What ecstasy!  Especially the mourning doves.  They were too heavy for the big feeder but they loved rooting around in the grass for the spilled nutrition.  As many as five of them at a time.  Every day, I love sitting on my couch near the window and welcoming the little people.  It’s like an extended family.

But then there was yesterday, and today.  I was having guests for dinner last night so I took out the hose and washed off the patio, getting as much bird poop off the stones and furniture as I could.  Then I refilled the sunflower feeder.  During the evening, I would occasionally glance out the window at the feeders.  They were empty of birdies.

This morning the same.  I sat down to blog half an hour ago and nobody was home.  I was sad.  Missing friends.  Will they ever come back?  What did I do wrong?  And I got thinking about the rest of my life.

What is supremely important to me is loving.  Being loved is very wonderful but I have no control over what comes back to me from other human beings.  Thursday was the last day of school.  Five minutes before home time, all the Grade 6’s were standing on the playground with Mrs. Fournier and me.  I so much wanted to hug each of them but of course it’s not my place to initiate physical contact.  Kids need the room to make their own choices and at 3:25 pm, that choice could have been a little wave goodbye, or no goodbye at all.  I stood.

My eyes are wet as I remember the next.  At least twelve young human beings lined up to hug me.  Life doesn’t get any better than that.  Oh, how I wish they were my children!  And in a sense they are.

I’m still sitting by the window.  A few minutes ago, a lone goldfinch perched outside for a bit, and then left.  And one mourning dove is meandering through the grass shoots.  So someone has come back.  It’s not the flurry of wings that came my way days ago, and that’s fine.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?